LONDON, March 21, 2008 -- Books about rugs may seem like a no-surprise part of the Oriental Carpet trade. But when it comes to how the books are sold, the business is very much a world of its own.
There may be thousands of carpet retailers spread across the globe. Yet there is only a handful of dealers who specialize in rug books and stock enough of a variety to interest collectors.
One of those retailers is Ed Stott, who operates Oxianna Books from his home base near London. Indeed, his base is his home because, as for most of the specialist booksellers, the business does not generate enough profit to warrant shop space.
Stott says ‘the bread and butter’ of the trade are specialty books for connoisseurs.
“People who have just spent serious money for a carpet, rug, or bagface will want to buy the book if the piece is published, if only to show friends,” he says.
After all, a book full of rare rugs including something similar to one’s own goes a long way toward authenticating a piece to any doubters in the crowd. And perhaps it can even help ease relatives’ shock over a rug’s sticker price.
One of the most highly sought-after books among collectors is the catalogue for an exhibition of Turkmen weavings held at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C in 1980. The catalogue, ‘Turkmen’ by J. Thompson and L. Mackey, has sold an estimated 5,000 copies, something Stott believes is a record for a specialist book.
Some other books -- like rare rugs themselves -- appreciate in value over time. One is ‘Rugs of the Peasants and Nomads of Anatolia’ by W. Bruggemann and H. Bohmer. It was originally published in 1983 with just 500 copies in German and 500 copies in English at the price of 60 British pounds a copy. Today, Stott says, a first-edition copy is fetching 400 pounds.
But if collectors are ready to pay high prices for specialist books, they appear to have mixed emotions about another source of information on rugs: auction catelogues.
Stott says a few auction catelogues are highly sought after because they are the stock of a single collector or dealer and may offer more information than appears in general-audience carpet books.
But most catelogues are considered to have only modest value because the pictures are post-card sized and, Stott says, the digital process can enhance the colors. After all, the intention of the catalogues is to sell carpets in auctions and advertising is advertising.
The world of carpet books is still a new one, with the earliest dating back only to around the 1900s. Stott says there were a few early German authors at that time but that it was really not until after World War II that books started to appear regularly.
At first, authors tended to be academic in their writing. But by the 1970s they also began aiming at more general readers. One of the pioneers was ‘Woven Gardens, Nomad and Village Rugs of the Fars Province of Southern Persia,’ by D. Black and J. Loveless. It caught, and expanded, the wave of interest in nomadic and village carpets at the time.
How does someone get into the business of dealing in specialist rug books?
In Stott's case, it was quite by accident. Ten years ago, his job as computer expert at British Gas was made redundant. But opportunity presented itself in the form of a friend who was going through a divorce and needed to dispose of a whole collection of books about carpets, travel, and related subjects.
Stott combined the collection with the rise of e-commerce and his mail-order Oxianna Books was born.
But it is not an easy business to be in, particularly today.
As a dealer based in Europe, Oxianna is hard-hit by the exchange rate when it does business with American customers. The weak dollar has made merchandise priced in British pounds or euros more expensive than before.
And compared to a few years ago -- when many new carpets books were published – today’s trend is toward fewer and ever pricier tomes. That is because color reproduction of photographs is very costly -- so much so that publishing a top-quality book now often requires having a carpet club or other sponsor subsidize the project.
Perhaps that is why many specialist bookstore owners engage in their business only part-time and without giving up other professions they may have. The business has to be as much for the love of carpets as for the hope of rewards.
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